Wellness Coaching Australia's Blog

A New Slant on Goal Setting


We always encourage coaches to work with clients to create positive goals that take them in the direction of what they want!  This fits with the idea of running towards, rather than away from things in life.  

I recently had an interesting conversation with someone who had been at a conference on death and dying, with one of the speakers raising the idea of having a “Reverse Bucket List”. A very strange notion I thought - where does that go?  

The “Reverse Bucket List” consists of things that a person no longer wants to do!! Now that might mean saying “no” to a number of onerous tasks that drain energy and take precious time away from doing what we do want to do.  

It also might encourage our clients to take a good hard look at what they spend their time on - believing that they enjoy it and yet we come to the realisation that we don’t enjoy it any more!  

This type of “bucket list” can actually be very empowering!  Yes, it might be more meaningful to us as we get older and realise the value of the years left to us, but I think it's worth considering and playing around with. It’s really no different from asking, “What do we want more of?”, and “What do we want less of?” Try asking it of yourself and see what comes up! 

Happy culling of unwanted and unrewarding activities!


The good and the bad of the healthcare system


When we work in the field of communication – specifically communication around health and behaviour change, it is easy to become overly “observant” of the way traditional systems work. I stress “observant” as “judgementalism” is to be avoided at all costs if we are to be true to our model! 

Recently, I had the delightful experience of being part of a conversation (in the healthcare system) where the “expert” met me halfway and joined me in our discussion around a health issue. I came away feeling heard, seen and empowered. “Wow,” I thought “Things are looking up”. I reflected on the experience. What the person in question did was not that complex. I was treated as an individual who had some thoughts, had some unique experience and a story to tell, some ideas about any action to be taken, and (thank God), my health professional had a sense of humour. Essential to relate well to me, I am reluctant to admit. All in all an uplifiting encounter.

And then not longer after I was talking to a friend who had been to see a specialist about a more serious condition (in her eyes). She was obviously feeling very deflated by the encounter and I asked her why. This was her account.

“I was in the room with the specialist and a medical student. Most of the time I felt more like a power point slide than an anxious patient and the main aim of the dialogue was to educate the student. In order to further his knowledge I was told of all the possible terrible things that could happen and how they could be dealt with.  It was clinical, without warmth and with little regard or interest for my feelings or ideas.”

This was quite disturbing for me to hear and I asked her what she wanted from that person - because we face a dilemma when we need to get expert information yet still want to feel like we’re in the driver’s seat.

She replied as follows.

“I wanted to be heard.  I wanted to tell my story but also to share my feelings about what had happened. I wanted them to be acknowledged, if briefly. I wanted to have trust in the specialist’s knowledge and ability to apply it to my unique situation. I wanted to feel like a person not a statistic. I needed some degree of reassurance but not patronisation – call it respectful caring and concern. I wanted to get the message, “I've got your back even if we’re not sure what likes ahead.” I wanted a connection with this important person in my life at a time when I felt my most vulnerable."

Doesn't sound like too much to ask.  Why don’t they include a course called Connection 101 in specialist’s training?

Workflow takes on a whole new meaning


I watched a segment on television recently on The Project which was looking at the very topical challenge of Work/Life Balance. There were some interesting comments made and it certainly seemed that many people knew they spent perhaps excessive hours working, but didn't really seem to worry about it!

What wasn't mentioned was the fact that work is no longer the drudge that it perhaps might have been in the past when people performed services for a wage and came alive when they clocked off.

To explain why work is often more appealing than it used to be, we need to  look at the concept of “Flow” and what it means. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (try pronouncing that before breakfast) describes flow as meting the following criteria:

  • An activity that absorbs you
  • You find it challenging but not too challenging that it becomes stressful
  • You are not aware of time passing
  • When you finish, you ac knowledge that you thoroughly enjoyed what you were doing and would like to do it again – soon!

That’s a simplistic version and if you think of activities in life that fit the bill, it will often include creative pursuits or perhaps sporting activities – maybe involving nature such as surfing, running, cycling etc. But what is happening more and more, is that we experience flow during the course of our working day. If we’re lucky!  And if we truly do love what we do for a living, we are tempted to continue and chip away at the time we might spend doing other activities, with family, friends or at home.  

The more time we spend in “flow”, the better mental (and physical) health we will have – or so the research tells us. 

So suddenly, working long hours becomes good for us? I would say, yes – if you love your work – but if it deprives us of other measures of life satisfaction such as good relationships, perhaps we should look at how we divide our time?

Want change but feeling stuck? Who hasn't...


One of the most common situations we see in coaching is when a person is very clear about what they want to change in their lives but is stuck in procrastination, or 'inaction".  It is probably the time when the support of an independent outside person is the most valuable, yet why is it so hard to go after what we know we want?

Let's break down what might be going on for us at the time when indecision is most rampant!

  • What we do know is that something isn't right.  We have a sense of dissatisfaction with some area of our lives.  It could be many things - the way we are living, dissatisfaction at work or perhaps a partner who doesn't share the same values or goals that we hold dear. 
  • We can list all the reasons why the change is desirable and when we do this it is often with a sense of frustration as while we know those things are within our reach, we just can't seem to take that first step to get there.
  • And there is a reason for this.  Because on the other side, there is something that we still value.  It may be quite concrete like financial security, or it may be an attachment to a more nebulous element such as a memory or a hope, or even a safe routine!  But there is definitely a big pull to keep us right where we are.

And the result of this inner conflict?  It can range from a vague sense of discontent with life, or a feeling that we are losing our sanity when it is so obvious what we need to do!

When I hear the details of the dilemma, it is a time that I feel the most empathy for the person I am with - because this feeling is one we all recognise.  And it can take years to resolve depending on the specifics of the situation. 

At these times, as a coach we can quite often feel helpless to help because we understand a few things about human behaviour.  Namely -

  1. If we push someone to take action and they are not ready, instead of helping them move forward we can actually create more resistance to the change.  I.e. they dig their heels in further and feel under pressure to meet our expectations as a coach.  Not good.
  2. If we offer our opinion or advice, we then take the power away from our client/friend/colleague by adopting an attitude that our take on the situation is better than theirs.  Incorrect.
  3. If we sympathise with them and join forces in promoting the safe alternative.  Not helpful.
  4. If we make suggestions that back up what we think their decision should be.  Disempowering.

So how can we help?  What can a person do who is so "stuck" and potentially unhappy?

  • A coach or friend can help shine a light on all aspects of the situation. By listening to the details and the feeling behind the story, we can mirror back to the person sometimes a clearer picture of exactly what is going on for them.  Even if we don't provide an illuminating reflection, we at least gain their trust and sense that we are supporting them.
  • We can put our judgements and beliefs aside.
  • We can let the person know that they are not alone in these feelings and that we understand how difficult it must be when both sides have a strong pull.
  • We can help them brainstorm all the options - including the crazy ones as well as the sensible ones.  This is a time to ask, "If anything were possible, what could happen?"
  • We can help them sort out which are the options that have value.
  • By choosing the next action in an option, we break down the change to manageable pieces, knowing that these may be experiments.  If it doesn't work, then there are alternatives to try.  All is not lost, plans can be changed!
  • The person with the dilemma needs to recognise that where they are might be exactly where they need to be - in a place of uncertainty with a lot of thinking to do!  Rushing a decision before you are ready could result in missing some essential considerations.
  • Take time to accept the uncomfortable place they're at; recognise that the feelings they have are steps forward in learning more about themselves and what they value; what is acceptable and what is not. 

Letting go of control of the outcome whether you are the person supporting or the person who is stuck is a difficult thing to do, but is the greatest strength builder if we can learn to do it at times. 

Perhaps it is best summed up by the ancient wisdom of the Serenity Prayer.  Know what when we can take action to create change and knowing what is outside of our power to change. When we can do that, we are really demonstrating the art of self-responsibility.

Can women say No?


International Women's Day gave me the opportunity to speak to a lovely group of ladies in Sydney around the topic of "Happy, Healthy Workplaces" which was a topic that is close to my heart. However, as the day was really focused on the girls, I did my best to find the areas that females might find more challenging than others. Now this went against the grain for me as I do believe that if we are to gain an even footing in the corporate world, then we have to be able to consider ourselves as equally equipped to handle the "job"! Yet, there are differences between the sexes that are hard to ignore. And they come from a long history of the role that women have played for centuries.

There is no getting away from the fact that women bear the children. Men can step in almost immediately once the baby appears but the pregnancy and strenuous job of bringing the child into the world rests wholly on Mum! Women are working for (on average) considerably lower wages and that is gradually changing. So we are bridging the gap in many ways.

But what about our innate nature as human beings? Women are generally relationship-focused caregivers. Not all, but many, have an instinctive drive to care for others and to provide the nurturing type of support that suits positions that may be an adjunct to a more senior male. With this comes the inevitability of having work handed down to us. And this can be where the problem lies.

Are women weaker than men when it comes to saying "No"? And by that I mean the ability to say, "Enough is enough", or perhaps, "I would love to help you but I am unable to do so at the present time". When I posed this question at the room, I sensed that there was a general agreement with my assumption!

So what is the effect of this habitual way of being in the world and what do we do to get around it? Without doubt this tendency is the cause of stress and burnout for women in the workplace. We move from board room to breastfeeding, from executive to soccer Mum, from housework to spreadsheet analysis apparently effortlessly. But it takes its toll. Instead of believing that we are masters (mistresses) of multi focusing, it's time we realised that NO ONE MULTI-TASKS WELL!

The need to be needed may keep us warm at night but the cost to our physical health (where does exercise fit in?) and our mental wellbeing can be enormous. When we lose ourselves in others, how can we possibly recognise our own needs?

I would love to hear from anyone with ideas of how to stop the trend of never saying "No".

The Tail of a Wild Dog


It's February!  How did that  happen we ask ourselves?  Weren't we just looking at the first page of our fresh and new diary, thinking what a glorious feeling it was that the year had yet to unfold and what possibilities lay ahead?


Then suddenly, it's February.  I asked a colleague how her week was going the other day.  She responded with, "I feel like I'm hanging on to the tail of a wild dog!" That made me smile as I recognised the feeling.  And I know for a fact that I am not alone.


So why is this one of the most often cited reasons for people feeling, well, less than perfectly in control?  This sense that life races ahead and unless we hang on tight, we get left behind. I have two Labradors. On our morning walk to the park, they are also like wild dogs. After a run, they are calm, well-behaved and willing to be gently led to the next activity.  I want my life to look like that. Calm, obedient, good looking and satisfying!


We could list the many reasons why life today is this chaotic and demanding.  Technology; expectations (our own and others), distractions and multiple roles to mention a few. We need to manage time better. Or do we? Perhaps managing priorities and even our energy is a better place to start?  

Priority Management

How often do people say, "I have no time to exercise"?  Of course, they do.  It's just that exercise is a lower priority than the other things in their life.  And we all have that choice.  If we ask ourselves the simple questions:

What do I want more of?

What do I want less of?

The answers will be revealing.  The things that get in the way will be competing priorities.  What counts is  how much you want that missing aspect of your life.  How  much do you value it?  Worth spending some time thinking about that.


Energy Management

Then there's this question of exhaustion, or simply feeling too flat to be bothered. Try asking:

  • What gives me energy and what drains me?

    When am I at my best? 

With a bit of careful planning it is possible to organise our day so that we play to our strengths. If you do you best thinking in the early morning make sure you have a way to record your ideas. If your energy is low in the mid afternoon, perhaps plan to do mundane tasks that don't require much thought. Or find a way of boosting it by slotting in exercise at a time that gives a flow on effect. Don't leave the things you hate doing for the time you feel the least motivation to do anything! Take time out to work out how your natural energy flows.


Time Management
We can't make 24 hours any longer than it is.  But what we can do is ensure that we get the maximum result from the time we spend on a task/project.

Mind Management


To do this we have to organise our mind rather than live to the clock.  Margaret Moore writes of the six Rules of Order in her latest book "Organising your Mind, Organising your Life" and she stresses the need for developing the ability to focus and cut out distractions at appropriate times.  On the flip side, we also need to cultivate the ability to switch tasks without getting flustered and annoyed.  Very often our emotional state prevents us from being at our best and neuroscience shows that our thoughts can in fact calm the pre-frontal cortex - the part of our brain that  produces emotions that can sweep us along in a positive, or sometimes negative way.  Panic, anxiety, frustration all work against our working in a  relaxed steady state.  If we can start to recognise what patterns we fall into that make that dog run (the one we are trying to hold onto), we can then begin to retrain our brains and regain control.

Wellness Coaching is a rapidly growing field


Contrary to what people think, poor lifestyle habits do not stop at what we ingest, whether we move enough and what tine we go to bed.   Instead we are working with people at a deeper level to help them be more better performers, have more peace of mind, improve the quality of their relationships etc.  Together we set not only physical goals, but mental ones as well.  Exercise, nutrition, managing thoughts and emotions become the tools to create change and much of our work focuses on helping people work out what they want and why they want it and then understanding  why it is difficult to achieve.


This realisation is spreading through the health, fitness and wellness industries and very quickly into the corporate world where the main measure of success has always been financial return on investment.  What is happening now is that companies are recognising that what goes into creating this success is a multitude of factors, many of them concerning the people who work in the organisation and their level of satisfaction or "wellness".  



Reflections on a recent visit to Boston


Coaching in Medicine and Leadership” was the title of this year’s conference in Boston. I headed over - spurred on my memories of my last visit two years ago when I came away fired up with new ideas and learning. To be honest, I wasn’t sure that my last experience could be topped but I was about to be surprised.

After an informal catch up with the Wellcoaches fraternity I settled in for two days of intense listening and I wasn’t disappointed with the new insights the sessions gave me. Not only does the conference attract some of the best minds in  the fields of both coaching and leadership, but also the interesting thing was the way each session seemed to link into the others. 

You would think that by their very nature/definition, information on “leadership” might be somewhat different to information on “coaching.”  There is a long held belief that leaders are in charge and play a different role form an empowering, collaborative coach. Yet it was clear that times are changing and leadership in today’s world is different from what it was ten years ago.

The main reason for this seems to be the degree of uncertainty surrounding us all – not only in the economic climate but in the speed with which things are changing and developing across all industries. “The rules of the game are changing while the game is still being played” was one memorable comment made. 

So although I hope to draw on many of the wonderful sessions I attended and pass on some concepts – or my interpretation of them – in future newsletters, I will summarise what I feel were the main points presented at the conference.

  1. The models for leadership have undergone major re-modeling to take into account the business world of today. The four keystones of sense making, visioning relating and inventing, as presented by  Dr. Deborah Ancona  were strongly aligned to coaching terminology and indeed, principles.

  1. The importance of emotional intelligence in both coaching and in leadership were emphasized by Daniel Goleman (until now a name that I was familiar with from literature on EQ and whose ground-breaking ideas have long been respected by anyone working with people in coaching and counselling). He presented research that showed that EQ (emotional intelligence – put simply the ability to relate to people) rated far above “skills and knowledge” in making a good leader, an exceptional leader.

  1. The need for, and growing body of, research in health and wellness coaching is central to its growth yet the outcome measures of reduced morbidity will come after a long process of measuring things like confidence level, new behaviours, attainment of individual goals and life satisfaction.

  1. The frightening yet eloquent presentation by David Katz on just how bad the health of the US (and globe  brought the room to silence and then to its feet.  He brought it home to everyone that there was no such thing as “public”, just you and I and the other individuals affected by the lifestyle illnesses that abound.  He gave us hope that we could “sandbag the flood” and eventually turn the tide but it would take enormous and collective effort in changing culture. His speech should have been given for a presidential election campaign.  He would have won.  The issue he spoke of was one of the biggest problems the USA (and Australia) face.

  2. Neuroscience was a hot topic - not for its own sake but for the information it is giving us about the human brain.  The fact that our thinking brain and our feeling brain are so closely intertwined came up time  and again as did the notion that we are “wired for empathy” as our motor neurons fire in synch with the people we connect with.  And again, those many reminders that the body and how we fuel it, are inextricably linked with better brain power.

  1. The coaching “dance” is now being measured by comparing arousal of the sympathetic nervous system between coach and client as the session takes place. The clients that had the most parallel response to their coach, in physiological response, reported feelings of greater rapport.

  2. So many other great topics and speakers.  I came away,  if not feeling wiser and more effective by my attendance, with a feeling that I am so very lucky to work in a field that is gradually infiltrating many of the key professional areas.  Let’s face it,  if the key people in Leadership and Medicine are listening, who else could be?

Attending this conference also concreted my belief and understanding of  why the area of wellness coaching is suddenly getting greater attention from the corporate world.  In today’s environment, you simply cannot be a good leader without a) learning to coach,  and  b) taking a long, hard  look at your own personal wellness.  Gone are the days when the top people managed to ignore growing stress levels and enlarging girth measures; where work ruled and relationships came second.   We are all finally speaking the same language.

The Purpose and Pleasure Principle


Are you driven by Purpose or Pleasure?

We constantly refer to “wellness” or “wellbeing” as being something more holistic to strive towards than simply “happiness”

If we ask people what “wellness” means to them we will often hear terms such as “physical health”, “mental health” or “balance” in their response.  Let’s assume that optimal mental and physical health is a desirable state to work towards.  So how do we achieve that? 

If we look at physical health, it somehow seems easier to identify the changes we need to make.  After all, we can all tell when we are “unwell”.  Improvements in strength, fitness, flexibility and body fat levels are all frequently cited as being good areas for focus if we are to become more physically “well”

But what about mental wellness - closely aligned or some might say interchangeable with “emotional wellness”?  Now that’s more difficult to define. Apart from the more serious and debilitating mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety that so many people struggle with these days, there are less severe levels of “disquiet” or “discontent” that we might experience that are often hard to put a cause to, other than the fact that our lifestyle seems to be out of “balance”. 

So what needs to be balanced better?  A few places to look might be:

  • Time we spend at work and at home
  • Time we give to others and time for ourselves

A closer look at these two might reveal some discrepancies between what we value and what we do.  There are many ways of categorizing where our issues arrive and a common one is Work/Life balance. (Interesting that the phrase implies that Work is the opposite to Life!) So here’s another slant - Does our orientation lie closer to seeking purpose or pleasure?  I recently came across a book by Chris Skillett called “When Happiness is not Enough” in which he puts forward the idea that very often, our lack of satisfaction with life is our inability to achieve a balance between the drive for pleasure and the drive for satisfaction. Let’s look at this more closely.

The purpose versus pleasure driver

We would all agree that experiencing pleasure on one hand and then experiencing satisfaction of achievement both contribute to feelings of wellbeing.   However, an excess of one over the other can lead to problems. Striking a balance between the two is the way to achieving a fulfilling life.  Think about it.  If we lean towards seeking pleasure continually we may well be drawn to a life of excess and lifestyle problems.   However, an excessive focus on achievement will create a different type of problem typified by the over achieving individuals who burn themselves out with huge working hours and a constant feeling of pressure to go after the next goal. 

But this potential imbalance can be experienced in other areas of life. 

What will dictate which side we lean towards is our value system.  When we can identify which our biggest driver is, we will soon understand what shapes our behavior.

Ask  yourself –

  1. When considering your overall life, do you tend to value the drive to achieve or the experience of pleasure?
  2. What does “personal growth” mean to you?  Is it about “knowing yourself better” or striving to be a better person.

We are often obliged to make decisions based on this balance between pleasure and achievement and we will find that we have a preferred style.

Consider these four lifestyles:

  1. The driven lifestyle – high achievement, low pleasure
  2. The stagnant lifestyle – low achievement, low pleasure
  3. The indulgent lifestyle – low achievement, high pleasure
  4. The fulfilled lifestyle – high achievement, high pleasure

Various stages of our life may steer us more towards one of the quadrants listed above more than the other. When we are younger the need to achieve may be more important - to set ourselves up and create a place in society.  As we age, our focus may shift towards enjoying the moment and the simple daily pleasures of life.

Ideally we will have balance of both of these in our leisure, our work and our relationships.  It is also easy to see how incompatibility issues may arise if we choose to share our lives with someone who has a very different driver from us.  The weekends may involve a constant battle between the desire of one, to “get things done” and the other “to relax and chill out”.  Sound familiar?

A workplace can also be geared more towards one than the other.  Does your organisation focus purely on KPI’s and achieving goals, or does the happiness and enjoyment factor of its employees figure into the equation?  Different industries may require different focus and different leaders may create different environments to suit their drive.

The important thing is to recognize how the two drivers influence our life at any time and to attempt to find a balance that works for us at any given point in time.   If we feel that our “wellness” is not at its best, perhaps a quick review of whether we are experiencing enough pleasure and satisfaction in all areas of our life would be a good place to start fixing things.  



Recent Posts


Tags


Archive